I've learned to count on The Empty Space to now and then produce shows that are both provocative and timely, and the season opener on Friday proves the point. It's a musical called "Spring Awakening," and even though it's based on a German play written in the 1890s, its themes -- teens dealing with abortion, homosexuality, rape, suicide -- are as relevant today as they were more than a century ago. Maybe even more so.

Given the time period it depicts, I asked Brian Sivesind, who co-directs the show with Kristina Saldana, if we should be surprised that the show deals so openly with sexuality.

"Should we ever be surprised by sexuality?" he responded. "That's one of the questions this play addresses. If we ignore it, does that make it go away? In some ways, we are just as suppressed today as they were in 1890s Germany. In other ways, of course, kids get way too much misinformation. Ultimately, it's still about effective communication."

In one sense, "Spring Awakening" is a coming-of-age story that each of us has faced, or will face, during out growing-up years.

"This is a show about kids struggling with the transition to adulthood," he said. "So much of what they learn is from each other -- and in our modern world, (from) movies, media and video games."

Sivesind suggests it would be better if parents were more comfortable about helping their children separate truth from fiction, myths from facts.

"What if we actually talked to our kids about the issues they will be facing?'" he said. "It's a challenging prospect, and uncomfortable of course, but ultimately necessary. This play explores those themes, and does it in an entertaining and exciting way."

Part of that entertainment is presented in a humorous way. I haven't seen the musical on stage but the opening scene captured in a YouTube video of Tony award-winning Broadway production provides a good example.

In the scene, a young girl pleads with her mother to explain where babies come from, saying she knows the stork doesn't bring them. Her mother, obviously embarrassed about the whole situation, sits on a chair in front of her kneeling daughter and starts off by throwing her skirt over the girl's head, as if to say "You really shouldn't be hearing this."

The musical features rock music and the actors sing the lyrics, but the score is prerecorded.

"We looked into the prospect of a live band," Sivesind said, "But for our space, the acoustics make it really difficult to incorporate that kind of sound."

Taylor Lozano plays Melchior, the young male lead struggling against a repressive society. A newcomer, Taylor Dunn, plays Wendla, a young girl exploring her newfound sexuality.

Shawn Rader is Moritz, a student who struggles with school and the expectations of his parents. Kamala Kruszka plays the Woman (who represents all the adult female characters in the play) and Sivesind has the part of the Man, a role that represents the same idea as the Woman.

For this weekend only, the theater will forgo its "admission-free" policy and charge $25 per person for a pre-show party, which includes entertainment, refreshments and desserts. Admission for subsequent shows, Jan. 31-Feb. 16, will revert to the theater's usual policy, donations of $15 general and $10, seniors and students.

Jared Ormerod exhibit

To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, you could call Jared Ormerod's exhibit at The Foundry, "The places I've been, the people I've seen."

A 2007 Liberty High School graduate, the emerging contemporary artist says each of the 16 pieces in the show reflects his memory of a particular place or person.

"When I look at my work, each piece brings different memories of places I've been, both physically and psychologically," he said. "And of all the people in my life who have been there for me and inspired me, old and new friends."

Ormerod, a Bakersfield resident, said the list of places he's been is too long to mention but did say he's lived in Bremerton, Wash., and Bowling Green, Ky.

Meanwhile, he and two partners, Robert Benson and Akash Patel, have formed a company called Creative Giant Clothing. It's based in Yorba Linda, a city in Orange County.

"I am one of the lead artists in this company," Ormerod said. "We have a couple of designs for sale right now and we will be selling shirts at The Foundry."

Ormerod used many different mediums in his exhibit, including acrylic, ink, watercolor, pen, marker and mixed media on cardboard and paper.

Writing workshops

Maria Rutledge, supervisor of the Beale Memorial Library, says last year's free creative writing workshops were so popular she's scheduled another five-week series. They will be held on the last Saturday of the month starting this Saturday and continuing through May 25.

Rutledge provided a few details on each session as well as a bit of background information on the instructors, all of whom teach at either Bakersfield College or Cal State Bakersfield.

William Mitchell, coordinator of the series, will lead off on Saturday with a discussion of the basics of creative writing and provide pointers for beginning and intermediate level writers. His articles have been published in aviation periodicals, scale modeling magazines, and his short stories in literary journals. He is currently writing a short story collection.

Next up, on Feb. 23, is persuasive writing, the style used for writing convincing letters to the editor, opinion pieces, reviews and online comments. Instructor Darlene Stotler has written for Bakersfield Life Magazine and has been a copy writer for KERO-TV, Channel 23.

Thinking about recording your memoirs for future generations? On March 30, Rebecca Mooney will show you how to do it. She has taught creative writing at BC for more than 15 years and her master's thesis was an autobiographical piece about her years living over a mortuary.

"The Joy of Writing Poetry" is the title of Christopher Dison's session on April 27. In addition to poetry, he writes short fiction, children's stories, and was a member of the San Diego Slam Poetry team.

Of course, now that you've written something, you probably want to see it in print. So, in the final workshop on May 25, David Moton will provide some tips on publishing and promoting your work. His book, "Navigating America," was published by McGraw-Hill in 2010. He has written two radio shows, two locally produced plays, and has just completed the first of a trilogy of sci-fi novels.

Each workshop takes place in the library's Tejon Room, which is on the second floor.